Children Living in Subsidized Housing Are More Likely to Attend Schools with Greater Economic and Racial Segregation

Subsidized housing and school segregation: Examining the relationship between federally subsidized affordable housing and racial and economic isolation in schools
Jennifer Jellison Holme, Erica Frankenberg, Joanna Sanchez, Kendra Taylor, Sarah De La Garza, Michelle Kennedy
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Every year, the federal government distributes billions of dollars to subsidize housing for families with low incomes. These subsidies are distributed through several programs, including housing vouchers, public housing, and Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) for affordable housing developments. Though these subsidies have no direct connection to any educational policy, they can affect the educational outcomes of children assisted by these programs. By determining where families are housed, these subsidies can influence which schools their children are likely to attend. This study examines the relationship between federally subsidized affordable housing and the level of economic and racial segregation found in the schools that subsidized housing developments are zoned to.

Looking at four of the five largest counties in Texas, the authors used data from the Texas Education Agency to map school district boundaries and data from the National Center for Education Statistics to map schools’ attendance zone boundaries. They also used geographic data from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to identify the locations of two specific forms of subsidized housing, public housing and LIHTC properties, in their target counties. After removing schools without typical attendance zone boundaries, like charter or magnet schools, their dataset included more than 1,600 schools across four counties.

The authors then analyzed the both the racial and economic segregation levels within each school and each school district’s demographic compositions in their dataset. Finally, they compared the demographics and segregation levels in schools and school districts with subsidized housing in their attendance zone against schools and school districts without.

Key findings
  • School districts with at least one of either public housing or LIHTC property had larger shares of Black, Latinx, and students from families with low incomes than districts without either subsidized housing development.
  • Rates of intense isolation in schools, defined as when at least 75 percent of students are from families with low incomes and/or Black or Latinx, were much higher in schools with subsidized housing in their zone. Sixty-three percent of schools with LIHTC developments, 68.4 percent of schools with public housing, and 79 percent of schools with both types of housing were intensely isolated, compared with just 48.9 percent of schools without subsidized housing.
  • The average student attending a school with subsidized housing in its zone experiences greater exposure to students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds than same-race peers who have no subsidized housing in their school’s zone.
  • Poverty exposure was disproportionately high for Black and Latinx students compared with white and Asian students. Even with no subsidized housing in their zone, Black and Latinx students, on average, attended a school with much higher poverty rates than white and Asian students.
  • The presence of subsidized housing is associated with intensified levels of racial segregation for Black and Latinx students.
Policy implications
  • State and federal policymakers could consider pushing for subsidized housing construction in a wider variety of communities and school districts to avoid their concentration in low-income and racially segregated areas.
  • Policymakers and school officials can work to amend the present economic and racial segregation by monitoring and adjusting school district boundaries to ensure subsidized housing properties are not exclusively zoned to segregated schools.
  • Education and housing authorities could work collaboratively to provide political and financial incentives that ensure subsidized housing properties are distributed across different types of communities.